Thursday, June 29, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Way Back to the Beginning

For this week's Throwback Thursday, I decided to revisit the moment Jamie Nolan met Dmitri Teplov in Way Off Plan, book one of the Firsts and Forever Series. These two will always hold a special place in my heart. I was a total novice when I wrote their book back in 2012, but somehow, this couple came to life and not only kicked off the Firsts and Forever Series, they also launched my writing career. I'll always be so grateful for that!

In the following scene, Jamie is a young cop sent to gather intel on a suspected major player in the Russian mafia. Dmitri is a nightclub owner who seems to be speed-dating his way through all the cute guys in his club. When Dmitri's associate asks Jamie to join his boss for a drink, Jamie is less than impressed:

Burgundy Jacket gave me a dead-eyed once over and said in a low monotone, “Mr. Teplov would like you to join him at his table for a drink.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. It was tempting to tell him to shove it up his ass, but I actually felt kind of bad for the guy. Sifting through young gay guys for his fickle employer couldn’t be this man’s idea of a good time. I said politely, “With all due respect sir, if Mr. Teplov wants to have a drink with me, he can ask me his own damn self.”
The man didn’t look impressed. “You really want me to tell him that?”
I shrugged and said, “Tell him whatever you want,” then turned away from the man and tossed back the last of my ten dollar beer.
I shouldn’t have said no to that. I was there to try to gain information about Teplov. But between watching him burn through men like a forest fire and that unshakeable feeling that I’d been whored out by my department, I was in no mood to play nice.
I watched in the mirror as Burgundy Jacket went up to Teplov and whispered in his ear. His employer scanned the crowd, his gaze finally resting on my back with a raised eyebrow. It was probably the first time he’d ever faced rejection. He was probably stunned that anyone could resist his good looks, the money, the power, the total fucked up package that was Dmitri Teplov. I looked down at my empty beer bottle, mentally putting together the politely phrased fuck you I was going to deliver to my police captain on Monday morning when I told him where he could shove this assignment.
I turned to glare at whoever was currently trying to pick me up, and my eyes went wide. Teplov reclined against the bar beside me, head tilted to one side as he studied me closely. Amusement sparkled in his blue eyes, his full lips barely concealing a grin. He leaned toward me, and I caught a whiff of expensive cologne as he said, “Would you please do me the honor of having a drink with me?”
He was even more stunningly attractive close up. In fact, he was the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen. It occurred to me that he’d probably bedded every gay blond boy within a two hundred mile radius with no effort whatsoever. Well, at least those who passed whatever random screening process he subjected them to.
His appearance was distracting as hell. I could barely think straight while staring into that dazzling face. “I don’t think so,” I managed. That was again the wrong answer, but I’d already decided I wasn’t going through with this assignment.
“Funny. You don’t strike me as the coy type,” he said before unleashing a thousand megawatt smile at me. Oh Christ, he actually had dimples!
“I’m not being coy. I sincerely don’t want to have a drink with you,” I told him, trying to bring up a veneer of indifference and drag my eyes away from that smile.
He laughed at that, a surprisingly genuine, uninhibited laugh. “So you wanted me to ask you to have a drink in person, just so you could shoot me down?” The dimples were still out in full force. He looked really young and innocent when he smiled. What an illusion.
“I wanted you to ask me in person,” I said, “because it’s annoying and degrading to be fetched by your lackey. I didn’t say anything about agreeing once you asked.”
That cornflower blue gaze slid to my mouth, and despite myself, I licked my lips. In response, his full lips parted in a silent gasp. God, that was some mouth. A spark of desire slid down my spine, coming to rest in my groin, and I mentally slapped myself for being so easily distracted by a pretty face. He leaned in closer and said softly, his voice a bit husky, “Please? Just one drink.” My cock leapt to attention at his proximity, as much as it could in the confines of those incredibly tight jeans.
Teplov was so close that if I tilted my head just a few inches, I’d be resting my forehead against his. He had serious personal space issues. Apparently I did too, because I impulsively reached up and ran the tip of my index finger along the sensuous curve of his thick lower lip. His eyes slid shut and he leaned into my touch.
Holy shit, what was I doing? I pulled my hand back quickly and mumbled, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”
“No?” he whispered. “What did you mean to do?”
I slid off my barstool and took a step back from him, thoroughly rattled. “I really should go.”
He caught my wrist and said softly, his eyes locked (pleadingly?) with mine, “You really should stay.” My heart actually fluttered. What the hell!
I could not think clearly around that man. The sight of him, the smell of him, the fact that sex oozed from every one of his molecules was too much. Another minute of this and I’d forget who and what he was and jam my tongue down his throat. I turned and bolted.
I left the VIP room and pushed my way through the crowded club. The night air was wonderfully brisk as I emerged outside. It helped clear my head as I hurried down the sidewalk and around to the quiet side street where I’d lucked into a parking space.
When I reached the generic loaner car, I patted my pockets for my keys, then swore vividly. Damn Jess and those manslut clothes! The keys were in my hoodie back at the bar, because the jeans were too tight to hold more than my driver’s license and a couple bills. I sighed with frustration, splayed my arms over the green Hyundai, and lightly whacked my forehead against the roof of the car.
“You did that wrong, Cinderella,” a now familiar voice behind me said. “You’re supposed to leave a shoe behind, not the keys to the carriage.”
I turned to look at Dmitri Teplov, stunned that he’d actually followed me. My jacket was draped over his arm, my key ring looped around his long, graceful index finger. He smiled, but (was I imagining it?) seemed slightly unsure of himself. I stepped forward and took hold of my keys, and he closed his hand around my fingers and asked softly, “What exactly is it about me that you find so repulsive?”
The answer to that question should have been, the fact that you’re a lowlife criminal, or at the very least, the fact that you treat men like pieces of meat. I stared at him for a long moment, my heart trying to jackhammer its way out of my chest just from his proximity. We were close to the same height, right around six feet tall, and stood eye to eye as he held my gaze steadily. I answered honestly, my voice a bit rough. “Nothing.”
“Then why are you running from me?”
“Am I the first man in history to turn down your advances?” I hedged as I slid my hand from his.
“No. But you are the first man to turn me down who wanted me as much as I wanted him.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and tried to play it off. “So, just because you’re good looking you assume I want you? That’s probably true for every other gay man in that club, but don’t make that assumption about me.”
“It’s not an assumption,” he said simply and moved to lean against my car, tossing the jacket onto the roof.
“You’re incredibly arrogant,” I told him.
“You’re right. But that doesn’t change the fact that your entire body responded to me the moment I got near you.”
“What? No it didn’t.” Okay, it had, but he couldn’t possibly know that.
“Your eyes dilated, your cheeks flushed, your pulse when I grabbed your wrist was positively racing, and, not to be crude, but those tight jeans made it perfectly clear that you wanted to fuck me as much as I wanted you to,” he said matter-of-factly. “Which begs the question: why are you running from me?”
“Christ,” I muttered, running my palms over my gelled hair. That had actually been incredibly perceptive. “Fine. I’m attracted to you. But then so’s everyone, right? What difference does it make that I am, too?”
“All the difference in the world,” he said quietly.
“Would you please give me my keys so I can get the hell out of here?”
 He pushed off my car, came to stand in front of me, and handed me the keys. Then he shocked the hell out of me by sinking to his knees and reaching for my belt. “What are you doing? Are you insane?” I gasped as he unfastened the buckle and unbuttoned my pants.
“If you want me to stop, just say the word,” he said as he slid my zipper down.


I love the fact that more than four years later, we're still following Jamie and Dmitri's story. They have a supporting role in All I Ever Wanted, the latest book in the series, and it always makes me happy when we get to check in with this couple and see where life is taking them. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Throwback Thursday: When Christopher met Kieran

In All I Ever Wanted, the newest book in my Firsts and Forever Series, we get to check in with several couples from very early in the series, including Jamie and Dmitri (Way Off Plan), Hunter and Brian (Gathering Storm), and Christopher and Kieran (In Pieces). I thought it’d be fun to look back at how Christopher and Kieran first got together in today’s TBT blog post.

The couple first met at a Christmas party. Kieran was very drunk (and dressed in an ugly Christmas sweater with a light-up Rudolph), and he planted a big kiss on Christopher under the mistletoe, right before passing out. In this scene, it’s New Year’s Eve, and they’ve run into each other at Charlie and Dante’s wedding. The clock just struck twelve:
I turned toward the voice behind me, and my smile widened. Without another word, Reindeer Sweater stepped forward and scooped me into his arms, and delivered a New Year’s kiss to end all New Year’s kisses. I wrapped my arms around him, my eyes sliding shut, my lips parting for him. My God, this man could kiss! It was passionate, electric, and it made my heart race.
He pulled back long enough to ask, “What’s your name?” before kissing me again.
“Christopher,” I whispered against his lips. “What’s yours?”
“Kieran.” He pushed me against the wall and ran a series of kisses along my jaw, and licked my earlobe before saying, “I was worried that I’d only dreamt meeting you under the mistletoe, that you weren’t real.” His hands slid under my tuxedo jacket and he untucked my shirt, his big hands finding bare skin as he clutched me to him.
“You were really drunk.”
“I know.”
I slid my tongue into his mouth, and he sucked it gently before whispering, “Just in case you weren’t a dream and I ran into you again, I made sure I was ready.”
“What do you mean?”
He grinned at me, his beautiful blue eyes sparkling, and fished in his jacket pocket. Then he held up a little brown sprig of something. “I’ve been carrying this around every day since Christmas Eve.”
I laughed and asked, “Is that mistletoe?”
He dropped the crispy leaves back into his pocket and ran his fingers into my hair. “Yup.” He kissed me once more, then rested his forehead against mine.
“I think mistletoe’s magical properties expire after Christmas.”
“I was hoping if I saw you again, you’d grant the mistletoe an extension. But as it turns out, I found you right in time for the biggest kissing excuse of the holiday season. Happy New Year, by the way.” He smiled brightly, bringing out a lone dimple in his left cheek.
“To you, too. Why do you need an excuse to kiss me?”
“Because most people aren’t okay with a total stranger doing this to them.” His mouth found mine yet again, and it was a couple minutes before we said anything else.
“I guess it all depends on the stranger.”


Those two still make me smile, and I love the heat between them! One of my favorite things about writing a series is getting to check in with past couples, so we can all see how they’re doing and what they’ve been up to several years down the road. Christopher and Kieran from In Pieces truly found their happily ever after. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The Long Road Back

This week, I published the 14th book in my Firsts and Forever Series. It’s called All I Ever Wanted, and it’s River and Cole’s story. This is the first time I’ve written a second chance romance, and I loved getting to bring these two into the spotlight! They’ve been a part of the series since the beginning, but always just as background characters. Now we’re finally getting to know them as we follow their journey to happily ever after.

River and Cole were a couple earlier in the series, but then they had a painful break-up, including a very public argument in front of all their friends. I’ve had a couple readers message me to say, “I don’t remember the big fight that’s referred to in the new book. When did that happen?” So, I thought it’d be a good idea to take a look at that in this week’s Throwback Thursday blog post.

River and Cole broke up in The Distance, #11 in the Firsts and Forever series (Jessie’s book). Their relationship had already begun to unravel, and Cole had been sleeping on a friend’s couch before he and River had a big, public blow-up during a masquerade ball and art exhibit. But that fight actually happened off-page, which is why some readers might feel like they’re having a hard time recalling it.

Not going into the details of that fight was a deliberate decision. I chose to go that route because I believe it doesn’t matter what was said. River and Cole were both hurt, and they said things out of anger. I think many of us have said things in the heat of the moment that we didn’t mean and later regretted. That was the case with this fight, so it didn't feel right to focus on the gory details.

We did see the aftermath of that painful argument in The Distance, and the following scene is part of that. This is told from Jessie’s perspective. It’s the night of a big masquerade ball fundraiser, which also includes an exhibition of Skye’s artwork. It takes place at a warehouse on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Skye and River are brothers, and all their friends are at this event:

When we returned to the Embarcadero, I hopped out of the limo full of energy and optimism, but then I murmured, “Oh no.”

“What’s wrong?” Kai asked, coming around to my side of the vehicle.

“That looks like my friend Cole over in the far corner of the parking lot. By the way his shoulders are shaking, I think he’s crying. That means I messed up.”


“I gave him a ticket to the masquerade ball, knowing his boyfriend River would be here. I was hoping they’d reconcile, but it doesn’t look like things went according to plan.” I locked the limo door as I said, “I’m oh-for-two. I tried to fix up Zachary and Six tonight too, and that also backfired. I suck as a matchmaker.”

“It’s sweet that you tried, though.”

“I’ll meet you inside in a minute, okay? I’m going to go see if he’s alright.” Kai kissed my forehead before heading to the warehouse.

Cole’s back was to me, and he wasn’t just crying, he was sobbing. “Hey,” I said softly as I walked up to him. He jumped a bit at the sound of my voice and spun around, then quickly wiped his face with the sleeve of his black dress shirt. “I guess it didn’t go well. I’m so sorry for setting this up.”

He took a couple shaky breaths as he pulled off his glasses and ran a hand over his swollen eyes. His voice was raspy when he said, “Don’t apologize. I knew he’d be here since his brother’s sculptures are in the show, and I came anyway. I guess I needed to know if it really was over, and I sure as hell have my answer now.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“I tried, and it just turned into a huge fight. I’m so embarrassed. The last thing I wanted was to start screaming at him in front of a crowd. But see, that’s why we never brought up anything serious the whole time we were together, because we both knew it’d turn into a yelling match.”

He took a couple more ragged, deep breaths, and I said, “Why don’t you come back to the warehouse and get a drink of water?”

But he shook his head. “River’s still inside with his brother and a lot of their friends. I’m just going to go home to Miranda’s apartment. Shit. I really need to find my own place.”

Jamie and Dmitri came up to us just then, and Jamie asked, “Are you alright, Cole?”

“Oh great, so that also happened in front of my employers.” Cole put a hand over his face. “I didn’t know you guys were in there.”

“Hey, shit happens,” Jamie said. “You have no reason to be embarrassed.”

“I really do,” Cole muttered.

“We’re heading home because my sister’s babysitting and can’t stay late,” Dmitri said. “Why don’t you come with us and crash at our apartment tonight? I’ll drive your car for you if you want, since you seem pretty shaken up.”

“You don’t have to take care of me,” Cole mumbled as his hands dropped to his sides.

“You’re our friend, Cole, and we want to help. Come with us,” Jamie said. “As an added incentive, the bar is right downstairs. That might be a really good thing tonight.” Cole had to agree. He put his glasses back on and gave Dmitri his keys.


In the new book, Cole and River have spent the last year apart, and that fight is part of the reason they’ve been afraid to talk to each other, let alone try to reconcile. They’re both hurt, and they’re also ashamed it got so ugly. But even though they both messed up, they’ve never stopped loving each other. In All I Ever Wanted, they’re fighting their way back.

Monday, June 12, 2017

All I Ever Wanted is Live!!!

All I Ever Wanted is live on Amazon! This is River and Cole's second chance romance, and it continues my Firsts and Forever Series. I had a wonderful time writing it, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it!

It's also available on Smashwords, and the paperback version will be out later this week.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Hate at First Sight

In the next few days, I'll be publishing All I Ever Wanted, which is River and Cole's story. The exact release date is still TBA, since I'm planning to publish it the moment it's through the editing process, and I'm not sure exactly what day that'll be. In anticipation of my upcoming release, I'm looking back at Hunter and Brian this week. They were the main characters in Gathering Storm, book four in my Firsts and Forever Series. We get to check back in with this couple in River's book and find out where life has taken them, so I thought it'd be fun to remember where it all began.

In this scene from Gathering Storm, Brian and Hunter meet for the first time:

Maybe fifteen minutes later, our cab pulled to the curb on a quiet street in Noe Valley. It was the first time I’d seen the compact Victorian that Kieran and his brother inherited a few months ago, after their dad died. Two people were on the little front porch, one in a wheelchair, the other flat on his back. After we paid the cab driver, Christopher ran up to the prone figure and I trailed after him, eyeing Brian suspiciously as I turned up my collar against the heavy rain.
Like his brother, Brian was a big guy with broad shoulders. He was dressed in a grubby t-shirt with a bandana tied around his head, arms crossed over his chest. A thick beard and long, brown hair kind of made him look like a Hell’s Angels wanna-be. He was a double amputee, both legs ending somewhere below the knee, but this was obscured by his baggy sweatpants. From everything I’d heard about this guy, he was a homophobic asshole, and most definitely on my shit list.
“Kier, are you okay?” Christopher asked as he dropped to his knees and rested a hand on his fiancé’s forehead.
“I will be, baby,” Kieran said with a little smile.
“What happened?”
“Well, turns out I’m not much of a plumber.”
“Ya think?” Brian muttered.
I glared at him as I came up the stairs, and said, “Wow, way to instantly live up to your douchey reputation.”
“Who the hell are you?” Brian asked, raising an eyebrow at me. “Because I don’t remember calling anyone to fix my computer.”
“Bite me, Duck Dynasty,” I said with a sneer. Then I shot Christopher a look and tapped my thick black glasses with a fingertip. “Told you.”
“What happened?” Christopher asked Kieran.
“I dropped the toilet I was trying to replace, and wrenched my back trying to catch it,” he said.
Brian added, “Don’t forget the part about it falling all the way through to the basement, and rupturing the main sewer line in the process.”
“Turns out, the toilet had a slow leak, which rotted out the wood beneath the tiles,” Kieran said. “It’s surprising the floor didn’t collapse sooner.”
“Fucking awesome,” Brian muttered.
“God, you’re ungrateful,” I told him, hands on my hips. “Your brother was trying to fix things for you.”
“My brother just caused a crater in our only downstairs bathroom!” Brian exclaimed.
“He was still trying to help, and he doesn’t deserve your shitty attitude.”
“Screw you,” Brian said.            
“Wow, clever comeback.”
“Who the hell are you?” he repeated.
“I’m your very favorite thing, yet another gay guy. You’re totally outnumbered.”
“Yeah, because I really needed you to tell me you’re gay,” he said.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “And I didn’t need to be told you’re a rude, homophobic dickhead.”
Christopher interrupted us, asking his fiancé, “Why are you out on the porch?”
“Well,” Kieran said, “turns out when you rupture a main sewer line, your entire house reeks of raw sewage. It’s uninhabitable in there, and the plumber I called can’t get replacement parts until tomorrow.”
“Come on,” Christopher said, sliding his arm behind Kieran’s shoulders. “Let me help you up. I’ll drive you to the emergency room.”
Kieran sat up slowly, wincing with pain. “That might be an idea. I don’t know what I did to my back, but it’s definitely not good.”
“What’re you going to do with Grizzly Adams over there?” I asked, tilting my head toward Brian.
“They don’t need to do anything with me,” he snapped.
“Oh really?” I asked. “Because last I checked, it’s pissing down rain and you’re stuck on the tiny porch of a poop-scented house.” That earned me a hard glare.
“Brian will need someplace to stay for the next few days, until I can get that bathroom floor rebuilt,” Kieran said, standing very, very slowly.
My friend chewed his lip as he helped his fiancé to his feet, Kieran’s face contorting with pain. “Well,” Christopher said, “I’d suggest dropping him off at our apartment, but there’s no elevator. The gallery downstairs is accessible, but other than four walls, it doesn’t have much to offer.” Kieran tried to straighten up a bit, but doubled over with a grunt, and Christopher tightened his grip on him and spoke to him soothingly.
“I’ll make sure Cro-magnon Man gets situated somewhere,” I said. “You just worry about Kieran, he’s not looking so good.” All the color had drained from his face and he’d broken out in a light sweat, breathing quickly and shallowly to try to manage the pain that standing up had caused.
“That seems like a really bad idea,” my friend said, glancing from Brian to me.
“It’ll be fine,” I told him. “I’m not going to roll him off the Bay Bridge or anything, no matter how tempting that is. Now go on, get Kieran to the hospital and hooked up with some pain killers, stat.”
Christopher weighed his options for a few moments, and came up empty. “Well, okay. I’ll check in with you as soon as I can,” he said, and focused on his injured partner. They started down the wheelchair ramp, moving at a snail’s pace, and I tugged off my overcoat and draped it over Kieran’s slumped form to keep the rain off him.
“Thanks,” he murmured.
“You’re welcome. Feel better, Kier,” I called as I ducked back under the roof of the porch. When they reached Kieran’s rusty old Ford Mustang, Christopher helped him into the passenger seat before jogging around to the driver’s side. After he started it up, the car kind of lurched away from the curb. I’d never seen my friend drive before, and wondered if he actually had a license.
“What are you still doing here?” Brian wanted to know. “Aren’t they expecting you back at Geek Squad headquarters?”
I pointed a finger at him. “Don’t think I won’t bitch slap you, Chewbacca. Now who do you want me to call to come get your sweatpants-wearing ass?”
“Just go away.”
“Gladly. As soon as you tell me who to call.” I pulled my phone from my pocket and waved it in the air.
“I can dial a damn phone, nerdboy. Leave.”
“Is your phone on you?”
“No, it’s inside.” He rolled over to the door and tried the handle, then ran a hand over his face.
“Lock yourself out?” I asked, and he sighed and glared at me. “Here, use mine.” I held the phone out to him, and he looked at it and then looked away.
“Don’t tell me, let me guess. You’ve alienated all of your friends and family with this angry-at-the-world pity party you’ve had going on for God knows how long, and now there’s no one to call. Am I right?”
“Eat me.”
“I’m exactly right, aren’t I?”
That pissed him off, and he yelled, “Just go to hell, you fucking f—”
I cut him off, getting right in his face and yelling back, “I swear to God, if you say faggot I will force feed you your nasty-ass ZZ Top beard!”
Surprisingly, he grinned, just a little. Then he said, “I was going to say fucker.”
“You were going to call me a fucking fucker?”
“Yeah, I was.” When I shot him a look, he added, “What? It’s not like I rehearsed it.” That tiny grin still lingered.
“Do I amuse you?” I asked, straightening up and putting my hands on my hips again.
“You just threatened to force feed me my beard. Was that not supposed to be amusing?”
“I’m colorful. So sue me.” I waved the phone again and said, “Really? There’s not a single person you want to call?”
“I was going to call a cab and have it take me to a motel, except that my wallet’s locked inside, too.”
“Okay. So, I’ll take you to a hotel and check you in, and you can pay me back later.”
He glanced up at me suspiciously, one eyebrow raised. “Why would you do that?”
“Because I promised Christopher I’d look after you, and he and Kieran have enough to worry about right now. I want to be able to report that you’re safe and sound.”
“I’m not a child. I don’t need you looking after me.”
“Like hell you don’t.”
“Fuck you.”
“Wow, another damn fine comeback. And you know you need my help, Brian. That probably hurts your big, stupid, hetero ego, but I really don’t give a shit.”

“Stop acting like you know a damn thing about me.”


And somehow, even after that rough start, they fell in love. :)
Stay tuned for more from Hunter and Brian in All I Ever Wanted.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The Best First Date Ever

Today, I’m looking back at Dante and Charlie’s first date in All In, book two in my Firsts and Forever Series. It’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever written. I always loved this couple, and I was so glad I got to revisit them in Armor, the novella I published earlier this year. This scene doesn’t need a lot of explanation, except to say Dante’s obviously not serious about wanting to shoot the dog. Enjoy! 
He’d totally thought I was kidding.
I met him in front of my apartment that evening at seven sharp and he started to escort me to his car, but I said, “I’ll drive. We’re going to need my truck for this.”
“For what?”
“For the breaking and entering. Or you know, the part of breaking and entering where we haul away our bounty. Your BMW is too small for the job.”
“So, you were actually serious about that?” Dante stared at me incredulously.
“I never kid about committing felonies,” I told him with mock-seriousness, then swung open the passenger door of my truck for him.
Instead of getting in, he paused right in front of me. He was fighting back a smile, and tried to look grave as he said, “Have you committed a lot of felonies?”
“Nope, this is my first. But I’m highly prepared. I Googled breaking and entering and found out everything I need to know. Plus, now I have you along as a crime consultant.” I flashed a big, toothy grin at him.
“So you know what I do for a living.”
“Yes. Granted, bringing you along for this is kind of like bringing a tank into a knife fight. But still, I’ll bet your expertise will come in handy. For one thing, you might know how to work these.” I pulled a little black and white case out of the pocket of my jeans and held it up.
“What is that?”
“It’s a lock picking kit.”
“Is that…my God, it is. It’s got Hello Kitty on it.” He burst out laughing.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I know it’s not the big, manly lock picking set you’re probably used to in your line of work. But this one was half as much as any of the others.”
“Where does one even find a Hello Kitty lock picking kit?” Dante asked with a raised eyebrow and a huge smile.
“eBay, of course. You can find anything on eBay.”
“Get in,” I said, “We’re burning moonlight.”
He plucked the little case from my hand and got in the truck. I slammed his door (three times, because it had a tendency to swing open unexpectedly if you didn’t close it just right), and then went around and got behind the wheel. As I fired up the engine and pulled away from the curb, Dante unzipped the kit and pulled out a couple slender tools.
“These seem pretty flimsy,” he pointed out, bending one of the tools slightly with his thumb. “They probably wouldn’t pick anything sturdier than a typical residential lock.”
“Well, then it’s a damn good thing we’re not headed to the Wells Fargo Bank right now.”
“No? That’s too bad. I haven’t pulled a good bank job in weeks.” I glanced over at him and he grinned and said, “Kidding.” He turned around in his seat a bit and studied my profile as he asked, “Are you actually okay with my job? You seem to be taking it in stride, far better than I would have anticipated.”
The mafia thing was utterly bizarre to me, something so far removed from the world I lived in that I couldn’t even sort of come to grips with it. So I’d compartmentalized it and tucked it away for later analysis. Instead of trying to explain that, I answered with another question. “Are you really okay with me taking you to commit a felony on our first date? Because most people would find that odd.”
“Oh, I find it incredibly odd,” he said, “and also completely entertaining. I don’t date a lot, but I’m pretty sure this first date is already totally off the charts in terms of overall bizarreness.”
“Don’t worry, there will be time for a normal date after the breaking and entering. We can grab some dinner if you want, and then go back to my apartment for loads of wild monkey sex.” I had to say that humorously, because if I’d said it any other way, I might have induced a panic attack in myself.
“Works for me,” he said cheerfully, and rested his big hand on my right thigh.
A couple minutes later, I parked the car on a quiet residential street in the Richmond and took a deep breath. I’d been trying to keep this little excursion light and upbeat, but my nerves surfaced now and I gripped the steering wheel tightly. I stalled for a long moment, leaning forward to look at a white house up the street. If I hadn’t brought a date, I really might have bailed on this whole thing and gone back home. But having Dante along made me feel a little more confident about this whole endeavor, for some reason. 
I took another deep breath, then swung the door open. “Please grab that white bag by your feet and bring it along,” I said as I got out of the truck.                 
He did as I asked, peeking into the fast food sack he carried as we walked down the sidewalk. “What’s this for?”
“It’s to distract Peaches.”
“What’s Peaches?”
“You’ll see.” I jogged across the street with Dante right behind me, then hesitated at the foot of the staircase leading up to the simple, white, row house. I sighed and said as I looked up at the front door, “This is going to be pretty anticlimactic if they’re home.”
“Want me to go up and knock on the door?” Dante asked.
“That’s a good idea. I’ll wait over here,” I said, and ducked around the side of the staircase.
He jogged up the stairs and knocked on the front door, which instantly triggered a barking frenzy inside the house. After a few moments he tried the bell, and the barking grew even louder. But no one came to the door.
“Looks like we’re good to go.” I climbed the stairs, took my lock picking kit from Dante, and crouched down as I said, “You be the lookout. I watched a YouTube video on how to do this. It should only take a minute.” I unzipped the case and removed two of the tools.
“Are you ever going to tell me whose house this is?” Dante asked, turning his back to the door and watching the street.
“Walter and Ida Connolly’s,” I said.
“And who are Walter and Ida Connolly?”
“My parents.”
“We’re robbing your parents?”
“Noooo. That’d be nuts. We’re just going to get some of my stuff. We’re leaving their stuff alone.”
“I don’t understand. Why is your stuff locked up in your parents’ house, and why do we need to break in to get it?”
I jiggled the tools in the shiny new lock as I said, “Up until last week, I lived here. Then I came out to my parents, and was disowned on the spot. That of course also included getting kicked out. I’d only had the foresight to pack up some clothes beforehand and stash them in my truck. I just thought I’d have to clear out for a couple days until they calmed down a bit. I totally underestimated the full extent of their rabid, Bible-thumping bigotry.”
“I’m sorry, Charlie.”
I sighed and said, “It is what it is. I should have anticipated this and planned ahead. But instead, stupidly, I gave them more credit than they deserved. Damn, this lock picking kit isn’t working.”
“Do you want me to try?”
“Sure.” We traded places, and I took over the job of lookout.
While Dante went to work on the lock, I said, “I tried to come back home toward the end of last week, which was when I realized they’d changed the locks. My father swore at me through the door and told me I wasn’t welcome here anymore. He told me never to come back. That’s fine with me, except for the fact that everything I own is locked up in that house, and I’d like at least some of it back.” I fought to keep my voice steady through that, mustering all my bravado.
“What if they got rid of your stuff?” Dante was still working diligently on the lock.
“I guess that’s a possibility. I would have come sooner, but they’re always home. This is the one night of the week I knew they’d be gone, because this is when they play bridge with the Sullivans.” I turned to see how Dante was doing, and told him, “They’ll be home in less than two hours, so could you step it up a bit?”
Dante stood up and said, “Yeah, I totally can’t pick that lock.”
“You can’t?”
“How is that even possible?” I asked him.
He smirked at me and put the lock picking kit in my hand. “I’ve never picked a lock in my life.”
“You’re kidding.”
 “Why would I have done this?”
“Um, because you’re in the mafia?”
“I’m in the real mafia, not the Kindergarten mafia. If you want me to shoot the lock out, that I can do.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you armed right now?”
“Do you want me to shoot the lock?”
“Hell no! Attracting the attention of the whole neighborhood with gunfire would be highly counterproductive. So does that mean you are armed right now?”
“Do you really want to know?” He was grinning at me, his dark eyes sparkling.
I thought about it for a moment, then said, “No. Come on, let’s try the back door.”
As we walked around the block to get to the alley behind my parents’ house, Dante took my hand. I visibly flinched a little when he did that, so he asked, “Are you okay with holding hands?”
“Yeah. I mean, I’m not really used to public displays of affection. I only came out last week, remember? Before that, I was way, way in the closet. Like, back there with the winter coats and old prom dresses. But, you know, I need to get used to being out.”
“If it makes you uncomfortable, you can always let go of me,” he said, giving my hand a gentle squeeze.
I tightened my grip on him and said, “No thank you.”
When we got to the alley, I jiggled the back gate and found it locked as usual. I paused for a moment and regarded the seven foot high wooden fence with my hands on my hips. Then I dragged over a lidded trash can, climbed on top of it, and looked down at Dante. “I can’t believe you wore a three thousand dollar suit tonight. Didn’t I tell you we’d be breaking and entering?”
He grinned up at me. “You did. I didn’t believe you.”
I hopped onto the top of the fence and sat on it for a moment. “You can wait there if you want. It’d be a shame to mess up a suit that cost more than my truck.”
“No way am I sitting this out,” Dante said, removing his suit jacket and slinging it onto the top of the fence beside me. He rolled back his sleeves as he said, “Speaking of that piece of shit you drive, would you be offended if I bought you a new car?”
“What? Yes!”
 He got up on the trash can and I jumped into the yard. He then climbed onto the top of the fence somewhat awkwardly and balanced precariously for a moment. Finally he caught his balance and leapt into the yard, landing right in front of me. “This is fun,” he said. “I don’t remember the last time I hopped a fence.”
I grinned at that. “Probably because you’re not in the Kindergarten mafia.”
“Probably.” He smiled at me, and drew me into his arms.
“What are you doing?”
“Thinking about kissing you.”
“Why?” He echoed incredulously.
“I mean, why now? Did hopping a fence make you randy?”
He laughed at that. “No. Well…kind of. Do you really call it being randy?”
“The word ‘horny’ is kinda gross if you think about it. I immediately picture a big frog with horns on its head. You know, like a horny toad? Either that, or I think of Austin Powers, saying, do I make you hoooorny?” I’d said that last part with a British accent, of course. Then I added, “Ew.”
“God, you’re bizarre,” Dante said with a big smile, still holding me in his arms. It was pretty dark in the backyard, but his amused expression was unmistakable.
“But don’t you agree that horny is kind of a gross word?”
“No. Are you rambling like this because the thought of kissing me makes you nervous?”
“Thought so,” he said, before brushing his lips to mine.
I wrapped my arms around him and held on tight as the kiss deepened and my lips parted under his. My entire body responded as the kiss became passionate, insistent, his tongue claiming my mouth, his big hands crushing me against him. Everything else fell away, besides Dante, and me, and that epic kiss.
Then the dog started barking inside the house, bringing me back to the here and now. It brought Dante back to earth, too. He picked up my hand and we went around to the kitchen door on the right side of the building.
 I crouched down and went to work on the lock. There was a little light coming from the neighbor’s house, just enough to see by. Dante pulled his phone out of his pocket, and as he flipped through a few screens he said, “Randy is far worse than horny. Unless you’re British, I suppose. But since I’m not British, the word Randy immediately conjures images of a guy with a big belt buckle who drives a truck.”
“Truck drivers with big belt buckles make you randy?”
“No! Truck drivers with big belt buckles would be called Randy. The proper noun, not the adjective you’re trying to make it into.”
“It’s an adjective? Not a verb?”
“Why would randy be a verb?” Dante asked as he crouched down beside me.
“I dunno. Seems like an action word.”
He chuckled at that and held up his phone, then tapped the screen. A YouTube video on lock picking started to play. I studied the video, then concentrated on the lock. Fifteen minutes later, I sat back on my heels and sighed. “I suck at this.”
“Here, let me try,” Dante said, and we traded places. I played the video for him again and he watched closely, then went to work on the lock.
“Maybe I should have spent more money and not gone with the Hello Kitty lock pick set,” I said after a while.
“Ya think?”
“So maybe we should come back same time next week with some better tools.”
“Oh, there’s nothing wrong with these tools,” Dante said, his brow knit in concentration as he worked the lock. “You just shouldn’t have gotten the Hello Kitty set because you’re a grown man, and not a five-year-old girl.”
I laughed at that. “What kind of a psychotic company would make a lock pick set for a five-year-old girl?”
“What, do you think you’re the target market for that product?”
“Apparently, since I actually bought it.”
“Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that kit isn’t a licensed Sanrio product,” he informed me. “The cat doesn’t look quite right. Its head is kind of square. It’s probably some sort of cheap, trademark violating knockoff. Not so much Hello Kitty as Hell No Kitty.”
I laughed at that. “Well, I’ll be sure to turn ‘em in to the Hello Kitty police. Why do you know that the company that makes Hello Kitty is Sanrio?”
“Everyone knows that. Come here and help me.”
I crouched down beside him. “What do you want me to do?”
“Kiss me,” he said, and leaned over and planted a big smooch on my lips. He smiled at me and added, “Now hold this bottom tool in place while I work the top one.”
After a couple minutes with both of us working on it, we heard a clicking sound and looked at each other with wide eyes. Dante reached up and turned the door handle. “It’s unlocked,” he said with a huge smile.
“We did it!”
“Well, either that or it was unlocked the whole time. I don’t think we actually checked it before we started working on it.”
“No, think positive,” I said, straightening up. “We’re awesome. We totally picked the hell out of that lock.”
Dante straightened up too, and we gave each other a high-five. He reached for the door handle, and I said, “Get the hamburgers ready.”
“The what?’
“The hamburgers. Wait, what did you do with the fast food bag?”
“Shit. I must have left it on the front porch.”
“Oh man! How are you even a criminal? I’m a better criminal than you are!”
Dante chuckled at that. “Want me to go back over the fence and around to the front of the house and grab the bag?”
“No. It’ll take way too long, and this has already taken forever. We’re going in, just stay behind me. I’m going to go straight through to the front door and grab the burgers, and then when we’ve used them to distract Peaches we can run upstairs to my room and get my stuff. We’re not going to try to take everything, just a few clothes and a couple things that have sentimental value,” I told him. Then I flung the kitchen door open.
We were greeted by a small, brownish-black spiky mess of fur with big sharp teeth and a tremendous underbite. It growled and lunged and snapped viciously. “My God, what is that?” Dante asked, slipping into the kitchen and closing the door behind us. He really did stay behind me, using me as a human shield. Chicken.
“That’s Peaches.”
“But…what is it?”
“It’s a dog.”
“That’s not a dog,” Dante said as he leapt back a few inches, out of snapping underbite range.
“Sure it is. What else would it be?” I asked as I carefully eased around the crazed canine.
“A rabid, reanimated Muppet, maybe? What the hell kind of dog is it?”
“He’s an Affenpinscher. Mostly.”
“That’s not a real breed,” Dante said, hugging the wall behind me as I guided us through the kitchen and down the hall.
“Of course it is.” The dog continued to snarl and jump at us. He made up for the fact that he was only a foot tall by his hell-bent determination to kill us.
“Wait! You lived here, up until a week ago. Why is it attacking you?”
“Peaches has always hated me.” We’d finally reached the front door, and I swung it open carefully, holding the dog back with my foot. “Actually, he hates everyone, except for my mom and dad.”
The dog growled and latched onto the cuff of my jeans, shaking his head violently, as if he was trying to kill my foot like a rat. “Oh shit,” Dante exclaimed. “It’s got you. Want me to shoot it?”
“Hell no, I don’t want you to shoot my parents’ dog! Though if you’d remembered the hamburgers, that would have been helpful.”
“You didn’t remember them either.”
“You were carrying the bag. It was your responsibility,” I said as I hopped up and down on one foot, the eleven-pound dog trying his damnedest to pull me off balance, and reached outside the door and grabbed the white paper bag.
I thrust the sack at Dante. “Throw him a hamburger. That’ll distract him.” The dog was still shaking my pant leg violently, and Dante grabbed a burger, pulled off the paper, and started to throw it to Peaches. “Not the bun,” I told him, holding onto the doorframe with both hands to keep from tipping over.
“Why not?” he asked as he shook the patty onto the floor. Immediately, the dog let go of my leg and started scarfing down the meat.
I stood upright and pushed my hair off my forehead as I said, “Because Peaches has a gluten intolerance. If he eats bread, he’ll have diarrhea for a week.”
Dante stared at me for a long moment with one eyebrow raised, as if I was totally insane. Then, while still maintaining eye contact with me, he tossed the bun to the dog. Peaches caught it and wolfed it down.


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